Mahira Khan, Sheheryar Munawwar, Mira Sethi and Amna Ilyas are an irrepressible bunch. Every time they come together, be it on a shoot or a promotional event, they create a stir with their easy camaraderie and animated stories.
It is this very positive energy that these popular Pakistani actors are expected to bring to the cinema screens in their latest feature, 7 Din Mohabbat In [Love in 7 Days], which follows a young man on a quest to find his true love.
Gulf News tabloid! sits down with the four stars for a freewheeling interview. Here are excerpts:
What was your first reaction when you heard the film’s title?
Mira Sethi: I thought it could’ve been better. Period.
Amna Ilyas: I had mixed feelings. Firstly, I thought it’s a very familiar title so it might work, but I was also worried that it could be criticised. Today, though, I’m confident that it sounds sweet and kind of grows on you.
Mahira Khan: I had mixed feelings, too. I fought for it for a very long time. In fact, we all did. We were, like, “Hum dharna daal dein ge!” (we will stage a protest). In the beginning, whenever I got asked about the film, I’d say, “Oh, it’s still untitled!”
Sethi: Mahira actually has a good story about an alternative title.
Khan : Should I tell it? OK, so, at one point while we were doing a scene, there’s a very funny dialogue that a character in the film says, “Main ne kaha tha, bhabi chalu hai!” [I told you, the sister-in-law was a sly one]. It instantly hit me as a potential title for our film — ‘Bhabi Chalu Hai’!
Wouldn’t that be derogatory?
Sethi: Chalu doesn’t mean anything offensive, does it?
Sheheryar Munawwar: Honestly, my reaction was also mixed. But then I thought the marketing people must have had their reasons for coming up with this one [title], so I’d better do my job and let them do theirs.
Ilyas: Also, Sherry [Shehreyar], it [the title] goes with the story.
Can anyone reveal the film’s genre — is it a rom-com or supernatural thriller? It’s rather hard to tell from the trailers.
Sethi: Magical realism.
Munawwar: Really? I’d say it’s a quirky comedy.
Khan: It’s a comedy, but to categorise it would be tough for us. Let’s say it’s a comedy of errors. Saat din mein mohabbat karni hai [We must fall in love in 7 days]. As intriguing as this challenge is, it triggers a series of comic situations, beginning with Tipu [Munawar’s character] venturing out to find love, and how Mira comes in, and then Amna comes in, and so on.
Ilyas: I’d say it’s a situational comedy, with some funny characterisations. You won’t find any slapstick here.
Mahira, you’ve done light stuff before in your films Ho Mann Jahan and Bin Roye. But here you are clearly stepping out of your comfort zone. Is it fair to say your character Neeli is a departure for you?
Khan: I hope so. And I hope so for all of us. Because, you see, a good film, or a good script, helps everybody. When Humsafar did well, every single person associated with it shined. Its DoP [Director of Photography], Shehzad Kashmiri, went on to become a huge director. So, a good and successful project just blesses everybody. I hope that the same happens with all of us.
Comedy is a difficult genre. Did you have to improvise a lot?
Ilyas: Meenu [Gaur] and Farjad [Nabi] are the kind of directors who welcome suggestions with an open mind.
Khan : Yeah, they’re very open to improvisations. I’ll tell you another thing, which I realised when I did Khalilur Rehman Qamar’s play, Sadqay Tumharay.
Munawwar: I was going to quote exactly what you’re going to say just now. I remember you telling me to never add or subtract from the script.
Khan : Yeah. So, I learnt this from Khalilur Rehman Qamar. I hope that one day everybody gets to do a script by him. I remember when I read the script [of Sadqay Tumharay], it was so tough; there were long monologues, my character had her own little way of speaking, which was difficult to adopt. So I asked him if I could make it easier for myself. And he told me, “A script is like [a religious text]; you can’t admit any changes to it.”
And once I began to enact my scenes, I realised that if I had changed a single word or pause, I’d have changed the soul of it. So, you should never attempt it; you don’t know what the writer is doing with it.
Sethi: Ultimately, the script is a baby in the heart of the writer. If we are too far from it, then it’s being mean to him.
For their first film, ‘Zinda Bhaag’, Meenu-Farjad dug into the subculture of Lahore’s neighbourhood. ‘7 Din…’, on the other hand, seems to offer more of Karachi, in terms of native humour, slang, and even music (Sindhi folk, Sufi etc). Do you agree?
Khan: Well, it’s set in Karachi. But Karachi is so cosmopolitan. In Mira’s character, you’ll get a little bit of Punjabi, as well as a British Asian.
Munawwar: I’d say, the setting is neutral, because they [Meenu-Farjad] insisted that we don’t put on big accents.
Sheheryar, there’s this small, behind-the-scenes video on your twitter profile where you and Mahira are seen making a strange sound. Were you doing a voice exercise?
Munawwar: No, no, we were just having fun on the set. (To Mahira) You remember we played cats and dogs? One of us was the dog, the other the cat, and we had to chase each other.
Khan: Really? When was that?
Actors are known to perform animal exercises.
Ilyas: Yeah, I know about this.
Sethi: As for my character, I didn’t do any such thing but when I’d go home, I used to keep talking like her [Princess Sonu], who’s a desi from Bradford, and speaks in heavily accented Punjabi.
Khan: I haven’t seen much of Mira’s work in the film, just two things, and I remember I was standing in the dubbing studio begging the directors to put those in the trailer, and they were, like, “No, this is our punchline.”
Sheheryar, your look in the film is perhaps the most prominently different. Who designed it?
Munawwar: We did a look test, and tried out different things — with moustache, without moustache etc.
Do you guys have any combined scenes?
Ilyas: There’s one actually, but it has no dialogue. We’re just there, all of us, in that scene.
Sheheryar, what was it like being the only male protagonist in a female-led cast?
Munawwar: Yes, it’s a female-led film, but because we had rehearsed before, what I really liked was that nobody felt inhibited. There was a very healthy culture on the sets.
Sethi: See, when you’re working with big actors, there’s a certain hesitation, so to say; with Sherry it was all so cool. For instance, in one scene, he was supposed to twirl me; I am not a very good twirler, so he taught me how to do it. He was very sweet and told me to just block out everyone present on the set, in my own mind. He’s genuinely a wonderful costar.
Khan: Sherry makes you very comfortable.
Ilyas: Well, he was not comfortable with me.
Munawwar: I’ll tell you why. On our first shoot together, Amna walks in on the set... and then she comes up to me and goes, “What are you doing?” I say, “Nothing.” The next minute she’s asked me to come for a walk with her, and I can’t stop wondering why. Anyway, she begins to narrate an incident from the past where she bashed up a friend of hers, and how she punched him hard in the ribs. All this, on the very first day of our shoot!
Who’s your all-time favourite comedy actor?
Sethi: I love Robin Williams’s work. From among women, it’d be Bushra Ansari.
Ilyas: I like Beo. Internationally, I’d say, Jim Carrey.
Khan: Jerry Lewis, and Bushra Ansari. This lady is just so amazing. The funny bone in her is specially carved for sure.
Munawwar: I really like Woody Allen.
What is your one important takeaway from this film?
Sethi: My takeaway is that I should probably do more comedy than serious.
Munawwar: Does it have to be a personal thing?
Ilyas: The fact that I made some great friends.
Khan: A sense of happiness.
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